clytemenstra: (Lots of books)
Just a vague shape hovering on the edge of people's field of vision.

This beautiful little novel is one that once you start, you can't put down. Guylain Vignolles is an isolated man, working at a paper pulping factory, living alone aside from his goldfish, cut off from humanity. Except he likes to read aloud, to those commuters he encounters daily on the 6.27 train. And by doing this, he finds a USB stick, that draws him into the path of another lonely soul, also working a shadowy job that most people choose to ignore. As her story unfolds, a genuine connection is forged.

This novel really does bring the mundanity of life to life, from its descriptions of the factory to his co-workers. There are clever sub plots - his attempts to help an older ex-colleague who unfortunately becomes a double amputee, and how he becomes part of an old folks' home. But this is a portrayal of how lonely life can be, and the beauty of genuine emotion. Sparingly written and carefully drawn, everyone should read this book.
clytemenstra: (Lots of books)
This is what happens to people when they lose their identity, when they stop being themselves...the person doesn't develop, it gets swamped, and it happens to communities, to villages, to countries under invasion, however benign the intention.

This, Du Maurier's last novel, is a surprisingly prescient and topical piece of work. Set in the late 1970s, the British people have voted to reject the EEC, only to find themselves joined in an alliance with the US. The residents of a small town in Cornwall wake one morning to find marines in the bay and a town under seige. Its a family saga, as it focuses on a family consisting of a grandmother, her six adopted sons, and her granddaughter. It also satirises the Kernow seperatist movement - and having houseshared with two Cornishwomen whilst at University, this does exist, with very strong views. However, the naivety of the central character grates, and it does contain elements of racism which I wasn't overly comfortable reading. However, if you want to try something different, and a little bit frightening, you could give this a try.
clytemenstra: (Lots of books)
That is the excitement. We catch only glimpses, a burst of movement, a flap of wings, yet it is life itself beating at shadow's edge. It is the unfolding of potential; all of what we might experience and see and learn awaits us.

This is a phenomenal book - the type of book that immediately made me want to flip to the start and read all over again. Set in Alaska at the tail end of the 1880s, its a story of discovery. Lt Colonel Allen Forrester, and his young teacher wife Sophie, are in Vancouver when he sets off on an expedition to discover the wilds of Alaska. The tortured history of America's greatest state is laid bare in this - previously owned by Russia, then sold to the USA, the indigenous tribes faced humiliation when "the white man" came.

Framed in modern times, by letters sent by an elderly relative of the Forresters, to a young museum curator living in Alpine, Alaska, the novel takes the form of diary entries by both Allen and Sophie, letters between Walt and Josh, and interspersing texts that I thought were from one other character, but having read it, I now think its another. Both the Forresters have their own journeys to make. As Allen copes with the unforgiving harshness of Alaska's beauty, leading him and his men to find the Indian villages, treacherous lakes, and, astonishingly, a baby. Meanwhile, Sophie grapples with two lots of grief - one concerning her father, the other her child. Through this she discovers photography, and at this point the narrative veers into an interesting look at the strict roles for women in the late 1880s. There is also the bitchy backbiting of the other officers' wives to contend with. In the same way Allen forms bonds with Pruitt and Tillman, his two accompanying soldiers, so Sophie becomes friends with her Irish house-girl, Charlotte, and Evelyn.

There is a sense of grief about this novel. Every character reads as though burdened with secrets, and equally, all are fully formed. In the depiction of Josh, an idealistic young man shines through, whereas Walt is an elderly man, tired of life, but sparked into life by the correspondence of someone younger. The mythology of the native tribes pervades this book, from the use of Shamans to a raven and a silver comb. The stories of goose-women and a woman who married a man who turned into an otter.

Absolutely wonderful. Read it.

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October 2016

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